“What day is it?", asked Winnie the Pooh
"It's today," squeaked Piglet
"My favorite day," said Pooh
― A.A. Milne
Oftentimes our worth is defined by our accomplishments and the people we know. Life is a cumulative reflection of being recognized or remembered. It’s society’s definition of success.
The activity of remembering is applauded from the time of our infancy when we “remember” to utter the words “mama and dada”.
Many people have passed exams, earned degrees, and achieved great awards with the recall ability of the mind to remember. Anniversaries, birthdays, and dates of relevance are dependent on our ability to remember. It’s how we orient ourselves and our place in life.
Would we be valuable as a person if we had no memory or the capability to recall and recognize? Is there a place on this earth for people that don’t possess the ability to recollect their achievements or bring to mind their place in certain relationships?
Clive Wearing (ca.1938- Great Britain) is known as “The Man With No Memory”. In 1985, he lost all of his memory and ability to make new memories after becoming ill with a virus that affected multiple regions of his brain. At the time, he was an accomplished musicologist, tenor, keyboardist, conductor, and teacher. He founded acclaimed choirs that performed at the London Opera Centre. He was responsible for the content of the BBC music radio the day of Princess Diana and Prince Charles’s wedding in 1981. What life did he have left after losing the recall of all of these accomplishments and the ability to form new memories?
He is still able to play piano flawlessly and direct a choir. He is still able to read music and sing better than he can converse. Although not able to make memories or even hold a thought for much more than 7 seconds, he greets the sight of his wife as if meeting her for the first time with undiminished love. He never waivers on his feelings of adoration for her. He treats her as if they just fell in love. He knows who she is and her importance in his life.
The word “remember” is shrouded in negativity, anxiety, and feelings of uncertainty for persons experiencing dementia and Alzheimer's disease. “Mom, you remember your neighbors, Tom and Jane? Don’t you?” All eyes are on the person with dementia, as everyone in the room is holding their breath waiting to clap for the right answer, like watching a child taking their first step.
The person with dementia knows, or rather feels, that they should be able to answer your questions and remember. They can sense your body language and that there’s an expectation of reward by them knowing the right answer. They want to please you. They want to get it right. They cannot. Nothing you can do will rectify this situation.
You can beg, plead, cry, be angry or frustrated. They physically and psychologically cannot recall or remember some things at this time. Their brain will not and cannot cooperate. Their brain suffers from an injury of sorts and is not well.
Is a person valuable or worthwhile without their memory or the capability to recall and recognize? Undeniably, yes!
Practice being with that someone in the moment. Use words and conversation in the present tense. Focus your emotions to display contentment and happiness for the activity or task that you are sharing right now. Do not remember. Do not revisit. Do not relish in the past.
About the Author: Michelle L. Belton is the owner of Companion Home Care Inc, providing non-medical senior home care in Roanoke, VA since 2004. She is a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP) and has been caring for seniors with Alzheimer's disease and dementia for over 15 years.
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424 Campbell Ave SW
Roanoke, VA 24016